Most of a major increase in federal prosecution of undocumented immigrants can be attributed to one official, says a new study reported by the Arizona Republic. He is a former prosecutor in Phoenix who, after deaths in the Arizona desert and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, led the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston to treat undocumented immigration as a crime. The report by a data clearinghouse at Syracuse University points up a remarkable change in policies and procedures on illegal immigration in one of the nation’s 90 judicial districts.
The policy of former U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby was to take illegal-immigration cases, even the simple misdemeanors of crossing the border to look for work, to criminal court instead of leaving them for instant deportation or non-criminal administrative actions. “If we don’t take the case, then we basically legalize unlawful immigration in the country, or we turn it into a purely administrative matter,” said Shelby, now in private practice. Because of Shelby’s approach, national statistics on prosecutions soared in ways that have little relation to how most undocumented immigrants are processed elsewehre. Almost single-handedly, Shelby was responsible for a radical increase in prosecutions from 2003 to 2004.